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08 Dec 2014

Rethinking Pedagogy? Student-centred Pedagogy and its Unintended Consequences By Hülya Kosar Altinyelken

By Hülya Kosar Altinyelken, The University of Amsterdam.

turkeyIn recent decades, school pedagogy has assumed central importance in education reforms that are designed to enhance the quality of education. It has been increasingly linked to economic growth, international competitiveness, and political democratisation. Particularly after the 1990s, the global reform discourse on pedagogy has been progressively shaped by approaches that are based on constructivism. Such approaches have become part of a discursive repertoire of international rights and quality education. Donor agencies have also proven influential in placing the notions of constructivism on the international reform agenda.  Indeed, an overview of policy documents by influential international organisations reveals that skills-based and learner-centred curricula have increasingly become the default position internationally.

Turkey introduced student-centred pedagogy (SCP) in 2004 to the official curriculum of primary schools. The reform was accompanied by high aspirations; it was announced as a ‘revolutionary move’ which would transform the Turkish education system and would help to educate individuals who think creatively and solve problems, approach issues critically and challenge established authorities when needed. High expectations were raised for the potential of SCP to improve education quality and to promote intrinsic learning among students. Often, it was seen as ‘progressive’ and ‘advanced’, and viewed by various educationalists as the only alternative to the traditional teaching practices.

Nevertheless, after almost ten years into its nationwide implementation, SCP appears to be problematic in practice. Some reform-oriented practices were difficult to practice (e.g. group work, discussions among students, and the use of ICTs), and some others have resulted in unintended and unforeseen practices (parental over-involvement in project, performance and research assignments or involvement of profit-oriented actors). Teachers point to a number of issues that impede implementation, including poor teacher preparation, large classes, material scarcity, the examination system, parental opposition and inadequate student responsiveness; issues that resonate in some other countries that have attempted to introduce SCP in primary schools, such as Uganda and China. Consequently, it is possible to observe adherence as well as scepticism to SCP among teachers, selective enactment of reform-oriented practices, partial resistance and some loyalty to traditional ways.

My study on the topic, involving eight public schools,  and 83 teachers and principals in Ankara (the capital city), points to some unintended consequences of pedagogical reform. In Turkey, concerns over reduced curriculum content, a high emphasis on research assignments, the ‘emptiness’ of the textbooks, and the ramifications of SCP led several teachers  to conclude that  students learn less with the revised curriculum. Consequently, several teachers argued that the development of competencies is emphasised at the expense of knowledge acquisition, marginalising access to knowledge within mainstream education system. These concerns echo similar concerns in other contexts with regard to the missing ‘voice of knowledge’ within education.  The study also suggests that despite the seductive appeal of the democratic and progressive language of curriculum change, a shift to competencies and emphasis on SCP tend to aggravate social and economic inequalities because of unequal access to learning aids, educational resources and ICT. Teachers believed that SCP favours children whose parents are more involved and concerned with the education of their children, who are more educated, and have more cultural capital. Moreover the revised curriculum seemed to aggravate existing inequalities since it increased the demand for private tutoring  and reduced the chances of students succeeding in the public exams without supplementary private coaching. Therefore, there was a strong conviction among teachers that the educational gap among income groups, and between urban and rural areas would be further accentuated, leading to an increasingly stratified society.

I believe the debate on reforming pedagogical practices should refrain from positioning the notions of teacher-centred and student-centred learning in opposite locations, and such debates need to move away from a focus on  the ‘problematisation’ of implementation process and in particular of teachers. Instead, efforts should be made to develop and apply more structured alternatives (particularly in resource-poor country contexts), and to develop context-specific pedagogical approaches.

Hülya Kosar Altinyelken is an Assistant Professor of Education and International Development at the Department of Child Development and Education, The University of Amsterdam, the Netherlands. Email:


Altinyelken, H.K. 2012. A Converging Pedagogy in the Developing World? Insights from Uganda and Turkey. In: A. Verger, M. Novelli, and  H.K. Altinyelken (Eds.) Global Education Policy and International Development: New Agendas, Issues and Policies. New York: Continuum.

Altinyelken, H.K. 2011. Student-Centred Pedagogy in Turkey: Conceptualizations, Interpretations and Practices. Journal of Education Policy 26(2), 137-160.

Altinyelken, H.K. 2010. Pedagogical Renewal in Sub-Saharan Africa: The Case of Uganda. Comparative Education 46(2), 151-171.


NORRAG (Network for International Policies and Cooperation in Education and Training) is an internationally recognised, multi-stakeholder network which has been seeking to inform, challenge and influence international education and training policies and cooperation for almost 30 years. NORRAG has more than 4,200 registered members worldwide and is free to join. Not a member? Join free here.

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2 Responses

  1. Alexandra Draxler

    Thank you so much for a welcome, and documented voice talking about the unintended consequences of conceiving reforms in the rareified atmosphere of conceptual endeavours and then implementing them in the messy, imperfect and unequal situations where most teachers operate.

  2. Alexandra Draxler

    Thank you so much for a welcome, and documented voice talking about the unintended consequences of conceiving reforms in the rareified atmosphere of conceptual endeavours and then implementing them in the messy, imperfect and unequal situations where most teachers operate.

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